Creating an Effective Photo Exhibit

Choosing photos based on a theme

When photographers consider the possibility of displaying their photos at Image City Photography Gallery or at other venues, a question that often is asked is “What makes an effective photo exhibit?” There are no hard fast rules, but the following are some guidelines that may help in selecting images for your exhibit.

What to Consider

  • Choose images that explore a single theme, idea or tell a story.
  • If you lean towards color images, all of your images might be in color.
  • If you prefer Black and White, an effective exhibit might include images that have the same tone unless variations in the tone contribute directly to the unifying theme. Mixing B & W and color or even B & W and Sepia might distract from the theme.
  • Though the images might have been created over a period of time—a week, a month, a year or longer, the collection still needs to reflect a unifying theme. 
  • The exhibit might consist of images from a particular geographic location or region; however, that might not be enough.  For example, imagine a set of images from St. Louis. Simply the fact that all of them were taken in St. Louis probably does not constitute an effective theme. There would need to be an underlying theme that emerges because they are from St. Louis; for example “the French Colonial Architecture of St. Louis.” 
  • Your chosen images might include some geometric figure (eg. vertical lines, circular structures, triangular shapes, etc.) that ties all the images together. This is often referred to as “graphic linkage.”
  • Make sure that all the images in your exhibit contribute to the theme.  Cohesiveness in the display is key.
  • It’s helpful to look at the images together as you would exhibit them. Ask some friends and family to look at them with you to get some feedback. 


As you can see from the list above an important guideline to consider when deciding on the photos to use in your photo exhibit is a unifying theme.  There are countless themes from which to choose.  Recently a critique group assignment given by Image City Partner Don Menges was to take photos based on a song title, song lyrics, poem or quote.  This is an excellent idea for a photographer to develop a theme around one central message. The following link includes a list of 328 photography themes, compiled by the Icon Photography School, that you might find useful:

Mat, Frame and Image Size

An effective exhibit typically includes the same type of framing and matting. This helps support a sense of unity. Though varied frames and colors may look whimsical, it might translate into a disjointed look that distracts viewers form the photo.

For Discussion

In the comment section below, please let our readers know some themes that you have used in the past for a photo exhibit or when preparing a photo portfolio.  

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